The inherent error in telling GOP delegates to "vote their conscience"

We’re down to the last couple of weeks before the big shindig in Cleveland and for those upset with the outcome of the primary there is still no viable alternative to Donald Trump being offered. (Unless you feel like throwing away your vote on the Libertarians to help out Hillary Clinton, of course.) That reality hasn’t stopped some of Mr. Trump’s opponents however, and there are still calls for some sort of eleventh hour miracle at the convention. One of the remaining “options” being discussed is having delegates who oppose the presumptive nominee simply “vote their conscience” even if they are bound by their own state party rules. Failing that, it is suggested that they could abstain.

An argument in favor of this plot is put forward this week by Quin Hillyer at National Review.

If there is one basic tenet of representative democracy, it is that a vote not cast for somebody or something should not, cannot be counted as if it had been cast for that person or proposition.

But the Republican National Committee, in its infinite ethical confusion, threatens at the party’s national convention this month to count delegate abstentions as if they are votes for Donald Trump.

This is not just bizarre, but utterly fraudulent, wholly unethical and, were the party not technically a private organization, would be criminally punishable.

As arguments go, this is beginning to sound like the last recourse for lost and desperate souls. I actually went over this specific question with a couple of folks from the RNC right before CPAC this year and the subject has already been thoroughly covered. The bound delegates are bound for a reason, and if they act in bad faith or head out to the restroom instead of voting when their turn comes up, their votes will still be recorded in the manner in which they were bound. (That is, barring some major rules change by the committee in the week before the election.) It’s rather odd how the same people who were sticklers for the rules back when it looked like Trump might not make it to a majority of bound delegates (what part of the word majority don’t you Trump supporters understand?) now suddenly find the rules inconvenient.

But that’s not even the most glaring error in this argument. In this lengthy diatribe, Hillyer even invokes the phrase, “were the party not technically a private organization…”

That’s exactly the point. The RNC is a private organization. As such, they get to set up their rules. Trust me, I’m unhappy with plenty of the rules at both the national and state levels myself. (Particularly for the states which don’t hold binding primary votes that allow the registered Republicans in their states to make their own choice.) But they are what they are and that’s how this works. Further, the case being argued here treats the delegates as if they’ve been elected to some autonomous office such as with a member of Congress. Once elected, a Congressman is, within the constraints of the law, answerable to no one until the next election. They vote on each issue before them as their conscience dictates and hope that their constituents will view their choices favorably and support them again next time they go to the polls.

Not so with delegates. They are not being elected to go express their own will on a variety of subjects across the spectrum of American life. They are selected for duties which take place over a period of a few days (or a couple of weeks at most if they are on one of the larger committees) and they were chosen to go cast a vote on behalf of the registered party members who sent them. In this fashion, the delegates are far more akin to the Electoral College (which has its own raft of problems in my opinion) than members of Congress. This isn’t a convention of free thinkers carving out a brave new world. It’s a confirmation process to affirm the will of the primary voters unless no such consensus was reached during the primaries. In this case, that consensus was reached and we need to get down to business.


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